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  • Writer's pictureStaff @ LT&C

Louisiana's Deep South Studios struggles to attract investors despite uptick in local productions

Deep South Studios, a movie production facility in Algiers, Louisiana, has been in development for nearly a decade. Movie producer Scott Niemeyer, a 30-year veteran whose film credits include the popular “Pitch Perfect” franchise, unveiled plans for the project in 2013. At the time, the project was envisioned as the largest full-service film and TV production facility in the southern United States, but only three of the 11 planned buildings were ever constructed.

The studio's only full-time tenant, a lighting and equipment company that opened in 2018, closed during the pandemic. Despite this setback, Niemeyer remains optimistic that a recent uptick in local productions will generate sufficient demand to attract investors to his project.

Deep South Studios is located in the shadow of the Crescent City Connection, just six blocks from the Mississippi River, on a nearly 20-acre tract that Niemeyer assembled through several separate transactions in the late 2000s. Niemeyer conceived the ambitious project at a time when Louisiana’s movie industry tax credit program was among the most generous in the country, and the state was becoming known as “Hollywood South.”

As originally envisioned, Deep South Studios would be a full-service studio that would enable crews to shoot movies in New Orleans, as well as do the all-important pre- and post-production work that creates permanent jobs. However, by the time Niemeyer began raising money for the project, other states had begun to offer incentives to steal movie and TV business away.

In 2015, the Louisiana legislature capped the amount of state tax giveaways, dealing a near-fatal blow to the industry. Niemeyer sought to finance the bulk of his project with money from foreign investors through the federal EB-5 program. He also asked the city’s Industrial Development Board in 2015 for a break on the studio’s property taxes, an incentive estimated at the time to be worth some $3 million.

He went back to the IDB one year later, seeking an additional $1 million. At a meeting in June 2016, he told the board that “support by the IDB and the City would provide a level of confidence in the project that would help tremendously in obtaining participation” from the foreign investors he was trying to attract. The board granted the incentive.

While it’s not clear how much Niemeyer eventually raised, three buildings were constructed on the site over the next two years, including a sound stage and two smaller buildings. In 2018, Deep South Studios announced it had attracted its first tenant—a production services company called Production Resource Group—that offered lighting and grip equipment for live events and film and television clients.

In 2019, two small productions—“Synchronic” and “Happy Death Day 2U”-- leased space from the studio to do some work there, according to IMDb, though it is not clear how much.

During the pandemic, which shuttered film production around the country for most of 2020, PRG closed its offices at Deep South Studios. The general manager of the firm’s Dallas office said PRG is able to service Louisiana clients from its Orlando, Dallas and Nashville offices.

Despite setbacks, industry activity is picking up again. Last fall, Second Line Stages in the Lower Garden District cut the ribbon on its newly expanded studio, which now boasts four sound stages totaling more than 100,000 square feet. Chris Stelly, who heads Louisiana Entertainment, a state agency, said the state received 73 applications with an estimated spend of $1 billion for motion picture production in 2022, compared to 65 and $91 million the year before.

The state is also investing more in workforce training programs that target the film and entertainment industries, Stelly said.

As the only full-service solution for Louisiana, Deep South has the chance to take the production industry in Louisiana by storm - it all just depends on whether Niemeyer can guide the project to success.

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